Nov 2, 2017

Robotics World Championships, St. Louis - Part 1

(created but never posted.  Huh!)

We left Tuesday afternoon on a marvelous coach bus.  The team trailer is being pulled by a loaner Porche SUV -- now that's style!  

A final meeting at home base
A final meeting at home

bus ride
Frisbee Sportball at a rest area
firsbee break
Eli add's a proper Unicorn next to another
Welcome to robotics
Just a bomb sniffing robot

These are mascot outfits for another team!
Open heart surgery
Well there's your problem!
Moments before pits close
Tired crew

Still Alive

Not posting a link to the Portal song.  But I could have.

Jan 7, 2014

Donald Empson, Sinclair computers, and the Street Where You Live

I have always been fascinated by computers.  My father worked for Burlington Northern doing "computer stuff" back in the days of punchcards and floors upon floors of whirring machinery.  He obviously enjoyed them as well.

My hunger for a computer of my own was satisfied by the Timex Sinclair 1000.  It was a pre-built version of the ZX-81, except it had twice as much memory -- 1k!  (That's 1000 characters.  The wikipedia definition of kilobyte is actually one and a half kilobytes.)  It was hard to find, and we scoured department stores, electronics shops, magazines, and watch stores for information, books and software.  There was no Internet, so finding even a scrap of information was like striking gold.  In fact, there was a Timex watch kiosk downtown Saint Paul that had more Sinclair software than we'd ever seen in one place before.

Eventually we found out about the Sinclair User's group in Saint Paul.  It was a diverse assortment of folks, all interested in this funky little computer.  It was a wonderful opportunity and resource.  I remember being one of the youngest folks there, as it was mostly adults.  Someone had a "chip drive" which was like a disk drive but it used some sort of "chip" technology to save data.  I bought a "blippo" from someone  - a module you plug in that would allow you to make a dozen beeping tones.  Very cool!  I even got the hi-res Memopak which allowed me to program graphics up to 192 by 248 pixel resolution.  I also remember one of the men in the group had an earring.  It was the first time I'd seen that, and it seemed so exotic.  (I'd have my own within five years.)

I'm remembering now just how supportive my father was in bringing me to these meetings and helping me with everything.  We learned a lot together on the Sinclair.  One of our best bonding times was in the basement - he would read me the letters to type in from a program in a magazine and I would mash them out on the nubby little "keyboard."

One of the folks in the user group was Donald Empson, a watch repair professional.  He was very helpful and I remember visiting him at his shop once or twice over on Grand Avenue.  It was full of tiny, tiny parts and so many shining gears.  In my later years I've often thought about how cool that shop was for it's mechanisms, but at the time I was focused squarely on making that computer do so many more things than it was intended to do.  I sucked the life out of that thing, but in the process learned a lot of the skills that make my trade today:  programming, improvising, researching, and even disaster recovery.  (If you touched the computer the wrong way you could jostle the 16k expansion module and lose all of your data.  HOURS of typing!)

Many years later my mother showed me a book she found somewhere called "The street where you live" and I immediately recognized the author's name - Donald Empson!  The book is a list of Saint Paul street names and their origins.  Many of them were obvious, but other surely required a lot of research.  I read it from beginning to end like a novel.  To this day I take a drive down Bison street whenever I'm near the Como zoo.  I tell my kids (again) about developers fighting for customers, and how one of them installed a pen of Bison for people to come see the giant animals -- oh and while you're there, maybe look at a new home!  Journalists in Saint Paul have credited it as a vital resource in their research kits, but I use the book for finding interesting areas in Saint Paul for my scooter club to ride through.

A new edition of the book has since come out and I'm so happy to have it, so that I can keep my first edition safe and sound.  I also still have a complete Sinclair system tucked away.

Dec 14, 2013

Harold the Christmas Spider(s)

Google turned a couple stills into an animated
GIF automatically.  Wasn't that nice of them?

It's Harold, the Christmas Spider!

We took out some Christmas decorations today and Lily noticed a couple of dead spiders.  They looked kinda curly and scary, but my first thought was "let's look at them closer!"

When we were at the LaBrea Tar Pits I found a pocket microscope in the gift shop (I do love a good gift shop) and picked up a set as my souvenir for the day.  They were pretty cheap, but I can't remember how much.  Less than $20 for sure, plastic lens and all.  We've all used the magnifier for lots of interesting examinations, from beach sand to, well, Christmas spiders.  It has a white light to illuminate the subject, and a blue light for counterfit bill detection, but I don't know how to use that properly.  Nifty little case and it tucks in my travelling bag quite nicely.

I used an old trick - putting the camera lens right next to the magnifying lens.  It works for distance, also, using binoculars or a monocular.  It doesn't give you the best image in the world, but it's surprisingly effective.

Here is a quarter close up:

 And a few more pictures of Harold, the Christmas Spider..

Oct 2, 2013

British Comedy I love, also available streaming on Netflix.

Going Postal.  Trippy, funny, dark.

Snuff Box.  Comedy about hangmen.  What's not to like?  I wish there were a thousand episodes.

Spaced.  Simon Pegg, a bunch of wonderful actors, and more sci-fi references than you can keep up with.

Black Books.  I wish I was Bernard Black.

The League Of Gentlemen.  A show so strange and funny you can smell it.

The Inbetweeners.  If I were British, I would be this uncool.

Peep Show.  Mitchell and Webb are an amazing duo, watch also for "Mitchell and Webb"

Shameless (UK Version).  Loved it till the McGuire's took over, but it's still good.  Scatter!

Hyperdrive.  Like Red Dwarf, but with more contemporary comedians like Nick Frost - the other half of the latest Simon Pegg movies..

Assuming of course that the IT Crowd, Little Britain, etc, is all known as wonderful, of course..

To be honest there are very few shows from the past decade (i.e. not Benny Hill, not Fawlty Towers) in the "British Comedy" list on Netflix streaming that aren't good.

Sep 7, 2013

343 miles in one day

A Blister run record for most miles in one day.  Two Harbors, Grand Marais, all the way down the Gunflint trail (and up and down and up and down a few times), Grand Marais again, Betty's Pies and back to Canal Park for beer and meat.

Lots of fun, nobody died, Scott is wearing a duct tape hand bandage that nobody wants to see coming off.  And we found that if you have a scooter that doesn't work and you have an identical scooter that does work, it's much easier to debug.  Twice.

No moose, but I think we decided that was probably safest.  We are all exhausted and just now warming up but it was all kinds of good.

Grand Marais

We are in Grand Marais after a very long day of riding into the wind and having lots of pickup trucks with boat trailers pass us.   Some dangerously, others just annoyingly. 

Took some time in Two Harbors to swap out a fuel line in an effort to curb some WOT fuel starvation issues.  So far so good but I'm not convinced its warm enough to reproduce the issue.

Grand Marais is actually chilly but Duluth was extremely warm. No rain but at one point it closed up and got quite cold.  And now we have sunny and wind. 

Time to have some fish!

Sep 5, 2013

Helmet audio and gear packing.

The $9 helmet headset kit from office max.  Fits like nothing is there and sounds great.

In past years I have done everything from drain my phone battery by listening to mp3's to getting an old old ugly mp3 player and taping that to the scooter. I think this is probably going to be a bit easier solution but it may be kind of a hassle with the cord hanging down.  We'll see.

As luck would have it I just upgraded my phone to a Nexus 4 and I still have the old phone sitting around so I'm going put it in airplane mode and listen to music on that thus saving my new phone's battery for things like navigation and not being able to find a t-mobile Network.

Packing gets easier every year. It seems all you really need is a toothbrush, phone charger, change of clothes and rainwear.  Everything beyond that is just added weight. I enjoy having my rainwear bundled and strapped in front of my scooter so that it breaks the wind a bit and makes me slightly more aerodynamic.  But I really like to be able to ride the scooter like I do everyday and not like I'm driving a huge bike with tons of luggage strapped to it. This year I have the back rack so I'll be able to strap my backpack to that and be on my merry way without having to worry about being able to fit on the seat or sliding my gear off the back of the seat while I'm riding.

Time for the Blister Run!

Heading north on the annual long distance scooter trip we call the Blister Run this weekend.  I am considering using this blog as the blow-by-blow account of our fun and travels.  We'll see if I follow up on that...

Jul 29, 2013

Wha? This old thing?

Delinquent.  Late.  Behind Schedule.  Whatever.

Updated a ton of pictures in my photo albums, but I'm not going to say which ones, you have to guess.  Once I get all caught up I'll post something nicer.  Just wanted a post on this blog from this year instead of last year.  More next year!